The east end of Pillick Ridge on the Kootenai National Forest in Montana is one steep piece of ground — the “Pillick Face,” Forest Service Recreation Technician Joel Sather calls it — which is why portions of Forest Service Trail #1036 were in danger of falling off of it. In many places above the two-mile mark on the east end of the trail, which begins near Montana Highway 56 and leads to Star Peak in the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, the tread was cracked and close to sliding down the hill. Thanks to a trail crew from the Cabinet Ranger District and volunteers from Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, though, the trail is now more securely attached.
Sather and fellow USFS employees Kari Dameron and Beca Gunderson were on hand Saturday, July 23, for the first day of a trail work weekend with volunteers from across the nation put together by FSPW summer intern Lauren Mitchell. Mitchell, who hails from upper New York State herself, organized a crew from Idaho, Montana and Missouri to help the Forest Service clear brush, fight hawkweed, remove blowdowns, cut water drains and repair damaged trail tread on the first, and steepest, four miles of trail.
Trail #1036 is one of the longest trails on the Cabinet District of the Kootenai National Forest, stretching 11 miles from Highway 56 to the Star Peak Lookout, and the biggest maintenance challenge is the east end, which gets heavy use from horses. “The tread is hung on the side of some really steep places, especially toward the top,” said FSPW program coordinator Sandy Compton, “and horses tend to move to the outside of the trail on steep ground to keep from getting ‘tickled’ by the brush, which is hard on tread.”
Dameron and nine volunteers and three FSPW staffers swung Pulaskis and worked with loppers along the eastern four miles of trail. Sather and Gunderson led the way on Saturday, sawing brush and blowdowns. Sather camped with the group on Saturday night at the three-mile mark and six volunteers, Compton and Mitchell continued treadwork and lopping on Sunday.
“The Friends did an awesome job,” Sather said. “I was amazed at what we accomplished in two days.”
The volunteer who came the furthest was Steve Blanck from St. Louis. “Steve was our surprise volunteer,” Mitchell says. “He signed on two days before the project began after seeing a poster about our trail projects in Missoula.” Blanck, from St. Louis, was on his way from Stanley Basin to hike in the Canadian Rockies. He stopped to buy a pair of boots from the Missoula REI, saw the FSPW poster at the store and decided to spend a couple of days improving trails in Western Montana.
Other volunteers and staff from Friends of Scotchman Peaks were Denise Zembryki, Jan McCleod, Matt Davidson, Dave Pietz, Rodd Gallaway, Deb Hunsicker, Phil Hough (FSPW executive director), Chuck Gross and Holly Clements. FSPW volunteer Mary Franzel made everybody’s day when she brought her two horses Echo and Jazz and lifted packs and camping supplies to the campsite at the 3-mile mark.
Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness has one more trail project this summer, a day on the Little Spar Lake Trail #143 with the Three Rivers Ranger District on August 20. To learn more, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.